4 easy things you can do in the kitchen to celebrate Earth Day every day

Tomorrow is Earth Day!
I don't usually give much thought to the day itself, since I've been a pro recycler since middle school, a very sparing plastic bag- and paper towel-user since college, a Prius driver since grad school, and a primarily local food-eater since going Paleo 2.5 years ago. Being a responsible citizen of the planet is important to me and I do it as much as possible as a given in my normal routine.

But, I'm on the Sustainability Committee at work this year, and we've put together some programming to encourage recycling and reduce waste in the office, and it's got me thinking about little changes that are easy for people to do without changing their routines. A science/movement writer I follow, Katy Bowman, says in order to change behaviors or patterns, it's much harder to introduce something entirely new--much easier to change a detail on something you already do (for her, it's switching to safer shoes or sitting on the floor to watch TV instead of in a chair). What this means for everyday habits that affect the waste stream is, rather than changing behaviors we have, like drinking coffee every day or washing the counter often, it's easier to change the way we do those things to reduce our impacts.

If you're interested in making some changes to celebrate Earth Day this week, here are 4 easy ideas that we do at home. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and a lot of waste is generated there, so it's a good place to focus your efforts for a bigger impact.

4 Easy Sustainable Changes in the Kitchen


1. Store recycling in an accessible but concealed location. Ours goes to the left of the fridge in a large pantry, and the paper bag we use to capture recyclable paper and cans is larger than our trash container!

2. Make your coffee at home rather than buying it out. It's very simple. People have been doing it for years. It's really not hard. I don't understand why people are still buying trendy, fancy coffee. Why don't we all just make our own?!? It's cheap, it's easy, it's fast (we use this programmable coffee maker and set it up before going to bed the night before--here's another option), you don't have to talk to strangers first thing in the morning, you can know the source of the beans you use, you can put any kind of milk or cream, fat, spices, etc. in it, and (the sustainability reason) you can bring it to work in a reusable mug. Think of how many cups you save from the landfill if you swap your daily St@rbucks for homemade--and how about all those other benefits I just listed?

3. Use hand towels and rags instead of only paper towels. I wash my hands a lot while cooking, and I actually prefer drying my hands on cloth towels over paper towels. They're also fun to decorate with! As you can see, the hand towel hanging on our stove is one of the only spots of color in our kitchen.

I also clean the counter a lot, and I use old washcloths and hand towels in a rag bucket next to the sink. The rag bucket was $1 at Dollar Tree and we already had the washcloths and assorted towels, and I keep a rotating collection as they get old or I have to use them for wood staining or something. We keep a bucket of rags by the kitchen sink, a small laundry basket for rag laundry in the downstairs bathroom, and a bucket of rags in our bathroom so I can clean the mirror or counters easily. I use rags every day! It's old-fashioned but they work better for cleaning than paper towels, anyway. I also use a rag instead of a drying rack for hand-washed dishes.

4. Keep and reuse bags. We store plastic shopping bags in a drawer (we use them as trash bags in our tiny IKEA inside-cabinet-door trash basket), produce bags on a shelf, and paper grocery bags sideways inside the cabinet. It's handy to have a variety of bags available for use, sorted. We reuse the produce bags from the grocery store (and from the CSA, when they're not too wet or dirty) to split up veggies from our CSA or garden/family's garden. (We use canvas shopping bags for regular grocery trips, but we still end up with lots of paper and plastic bags from other places.)
Photos by Nakalan McKay.

There you have it--4 easy changes that aren't really big changes at all! Happy Earth Day this week, and may you enjoy it and build habits that you use the whole year!

6 comments

  1. Great easy tips on incorporating reduce reuse and recycle into everyday! There are times I carry recyclable garbage with me for a while when I'm out looking for recycling containers!

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  2. I'm a big fan of using rags too! In fact I use single socks that lost a mate as cleaning rags too. Reuse!

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  3. These are awesome, completely do-able tips. Love them! I really need to do better about using cloth rags versus paper towels more, and I think having rag buckets around the house as you suggest will help. Thanks for the tips!

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  4. i NEVER buy coffee out! i always make french press/bialetti/pour over - you name it! it doesn't have to taste bad and it's so much better than $4.00 on some milk and grounds!

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  5. These are great ideas, but who isn't already doing this? I can't imagine!

    Conscious comsuming is a big area I've been working on. I already make almost no trash, but I'm trying to make just as little recycling by purchasing products with as minimal packaging as possible. I can bring my own reusable containers to the deli counter for meats and cheese. I buy most staples in bulk in cloth bags I make from old T-shirts. I use the hem as a drawstring casing. I make little bags out of the sleeves. It's one seam! Then I just write the bin number and contents in sharpie on the bag.
    For the few times I would want a paper towel, I use paper napkins from restaurants that I always save and tuck in my purse. Every dollar we spend is a vote for how we want to world to be! No votes for clear cuts!
    I really enjoy your blog, your projects, and your outlook. Thanks!

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  6. I love these ideas! Definitely easy to do! I'm with you on making coffee at home (think of the cost savings, too!), but we need to reduce our use of paper towels. We have been better about reaching for the rags to clean and the hand towel to dry our hands, though. :)

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